University of Regina workers vote for strike mandate

| February 25, 2016
Photo: flickr/ Alec Couros

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A group of unionized employees at the University of Regina are about to enter their 20th month without a collective agreement following a year of unsuccessful contract negotiations.

The work contract for the 325 administrative, technical and professional (ATP) staff members, represented by the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA), expired at the end of July 2014.

Today marks a year exactly since negotiators headed to the bargaining table to hash out a new agreement for the workers, who are staff frontline services like student advising, counselling, and information technology.

According to the URFA -- which has a dedicated bargaining unit for ATP employees -- progress has been slow due to a lack of commitment from the university.

Dr. Dennis Fitzpatrick, URFA chair and chemistry and biology professor, says ATP members are particularly dissatisfied about the university's proposed changes to lay-off and retirement clauses, as well as the low salary base increase it is offering.

"The first issue is the issue of equity across campus," he says.

The ATP unit was offered about half of the overall two per cent base salary increase received by the URFA's faculty unit members when they settled a new collective in January last year.

The amount is also "significantly less" than what is being provided to the university's out-of-scope employees, Fitzpatrick said.

At the end of last month, a proposed agreement from the university was rejected by 88.7 per cent of ATP unit members.

Two weeks later, 85.2 per cent of members voted to strike.

"It didn't appear the university was taking the bargaining seriously until we called the strike mandate," Fitzpatrick said.

Negotiators are also struggling with data being used by the university as evidence for its salary increase proposals.

When bargaining for the faculty unit members took place, URFA negotiators wanted a comparison of staff salary levels across about 10 universities -- identified by management at the University of Regina as similar to its institution -- performed, Fitzpatrick said.

The university dismissed this suggestion.

"During negotiations here, the university turned around and said: we're going to compare these people to [other] institutions to see how their salaries should be set."

When the URFA asked about the comparison, the university refused to say what tertiary institutions it had used because it had "promised" anonymity to the organizations involved, Fitzpatrick said.

"There's a significant double standard where they apply data," he said.

Other proposed changes would effectively make it easier for the university to layoff people with less notice and payout.

In addition to this, an increase in the 10 years' employment threshold required for members to be eligible for the retirement allowance is on the table, Fitzpatrick said.

"The mood is worrying. Right now, we're talking about some pretty gloomy budget announcements and no one knows where things are going -- they're concerned," he said.

Management at the University of Regina declined an interview when contacted by rabble, and issued a short statement via email.

"We are in the process of scheduling further discussions," the statement said.

"With this in mind, we do not believe it would be fair to those at the negotiating table to conduct those discussions through the media."

 

Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.

Photo: flickr/ Alec Couros

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